Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dies at 87

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Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” who led a conservative resurgence in her home country and forged a legendary partnership with President Ronald Reagan, died Monday following a stroke, her spokesman said. She was 87.

Thatcher led Britain from 1979 to 1990, the first and only woman to hold the job and longest-serving prime minister of the postwar era. 

“It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning,” the spokesman, Lord Tim Bell, said.

Queen Elizabeth II planned to send a private message of sympathy to the family, Buckingham Palace said. Prime Minister David Cameron, from his official Twitter account, said: “We’ve lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton.”

Her successor as prime minister, John Major, said that Thatcher’s economic reforms and the British victory in the Falklands War “elevated her above normal politics, and may not have been achieved under any other leader.”

A grocer’s daughter with a sharp tongue and a no-nonsense style, Thatcher was elected to Parliament at age 34 and climbed the Conservative Party ladder. She became its leader at age 50 and swept into 10 Downing St. four years later.

Thatcher transformed the British economy and took on its welfare state and powerful unions. Her government closed or sold state-owned industries, notably struggling steel plants and coal mines, to the private sector and radically cut taxes and public spending — strong medicine, she conceded, but precisely what was needed to restart a stagnant nation.

“The problem with socialism,” she once said, “is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

In 1979, the year she took office as prime minister, Thatcher took note of her place in history: “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”

Ten years earlier, she had predicted that no woman in her time would hold the job of prime minister or foreign secretary.

In 1980, she addressed opponents waiting for her to make a political U-turn: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

Under her leadership, Britain fought and won a war with Argentina for the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean — determined to preserve one of the last outposts of the British empire.

Thatcher’s military worries became focused on a speck of land halfway around the world in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falklands, a British archipelago. After American mediation attempts failed, Thatcher decided to retake the islands, a feat accomplished in a few weeks. The war was a huge boost to Thatcher's popularity.

She survived an assassination attempt when an Irish Republican Army bomb exploded at a Conservative Party conference in the British city of Brighton in 1984, killing five people and injuring a cabinet minister, among others. Thatcher gave the keynote speech hours later and said: “This attack has failed. All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”

She had a well-known friendship with Reagan during his two terms as president in the 1980s. They shared an allegiance to free-market principles and opposition to the Soviet Union.

Thatcher recalled in her memoir, “The Downing Street Years,” that she met Reagan in 1975, when she led the political opposition in Britain and Reagan was the ascendant governor of California. She said that she was won over by his “warmth, charm and complete lack of affectation — qualities which never altered in the years of leadership which lay ahead.”

When Reagan died, in 2004, Thatcher delivered a recorded eulogy and said: “We have lost a great president, a great American and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend.”

Thatcher was forced out of office by her own party in 1990, unhappy with some of her policies. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said Monday that Thatcher’s views had been vindicated — on unions, on communism and on the movement toward political union on the European continent, of which she was extremely skeptical and urged British to stay out.

“The country is deeply in her debt,” Johnson said. “Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics.”

Former President George W. Bush said that Thatcher guided Britain with confidence and clarity.

“Prime Minister Thatcher is a great example of strength and character, and a great ally who strengthened the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States,” he said in a statement.

Thatcher’s daughter said in 2008 that she had been suffering from dementia for eight years, and had to be reminded that her husband was dead.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born Oct. 13, 1925. At the hand of her grocer father, she later said, she learned both thrift and capitalist principles.

“Before I read a line from the great liberal economists,” she wrote, “I knew from my father’s accounts that the free market was like a vast sensitive nervous system, responding to events and signals all over the world to meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, from different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status.”

A spokesman said that Cameron would cut short a visit to Europe to return to Britain. Cameron’s office said that Thatcher would receive a ceremonial funeral with military honors at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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